HOTHOUSE | Design Action, Leadership & the Future :: One

Posted on 25/07/2011

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On the weekend I attended/participated in a Design Futures Hothouse exploring, maybe developing, perhaps exposing, even appropriating, Design Action, Leadership & the Future. As a connected trio of concepts, which all have the power to position and disposition, it seems inappropriate to call it a theme. Let’s say, for the moment, it was a call to action; a call to which about 80 people from around the world responded. Having been to a few of these Hothouse events, I knew it would be challenging, even discomforting. This feeling was enhanced by an unsettledness in my stomach over the last few days, which gradually grew over the weekend to a lowly sensation of knotted pain. What was that? A physical reaction to the context – a low grade anxiety, a difficulty stomaching (ingesting and digesting), or perhaps just a lack of care of myself. One of the foundational ‘lores’ of sustainment is that we cannot sustain anything without sustaining ourselves …

Sustaining ourselves became one of the most important questions that arose for me out of this event. We don’t sustain ourselves in isolation – we do so within a ‘community in difference’. This is the first of several posts as I process various and fragmented commentaries and experiences. There’s a small number of graduates from the Design Futures program who have made a promise to themselves and each other to opt out of the prevailing employment and workforce regime to, as one person explained, adjust their expectations about income and lifestyle to dedicate and rededicate to the project of sustainment. I’ve heard some of their stories framed as disillusionment, inertia, alienation, searching for meaning. This is the very breeding ground of connected radicalism just as it is for disconnected fundamentalism. There are lines, there are always lines to be drawn in the sands of dissent. It seems a like a foment in their hearts and, so, redirection has whole of life implications.

There’s some statements about risk and, in particular, risking your life. Past shadows extend when these kinds of calls are made – experiences that existentially resonate – and it can be difficult to differentiate and reflect. Oh right, I remember being a young socialist and a young feminist and a young activist often instructed to put my faith in the milling of radical politics: to suck it up and do it for the revolution or the greater good or something else that presumedly included or enveloped me. Even, at one point, told to ‘breed for the revolution’. So our bodies become the ground in which such rhetorical politics are sewn and wrestled. There are challenges in living an ethical life, attributable to the peppering of falsehoods, failures and betrayals along with victories, exhilaration and solidarity (both internally and externally); there are periods of feeling like a corpse that’s been picked to the marrow.

The heavy call to risk your life – couched as “I’m at the end of my working life. It doesn’t matter to me if I lose my job” – has a rub about it, perhaps it feels like a slap. This statement or provocation is seriously difficult to unpack and unpick. The sting awakens an awareness of entrapment and enmeshment that makes for a restless complacency and makes the world somewhat uninhabitable. A recognition that we are all at different stages of our lives and have different needs. A couple of people respond anxiously – concerns for families and mortgages, how to finance their next project or studies, obvious claims for status that come from position, or whatever else. Do we need to hear from those whose introspection leads them to bemoan their privilege and that they ‘haven’t had any impact in their design schools or tertiary institutions’ and thus been ‘wasting their time’? Is there, in some small way, just another bleating affirmation of institutional or academic life in that statement? When facing this serious and all-consuming dilemma of how to redirect a life in a way that meshes values, action, politics and practice, there’s a question in the mix about the responsibility of community and, in particular, the responsibility of elders in this ‘community in difference’ when it comes to communicating and modelling change and risk. Does this discourse begin to construct an idea of futuring martyrs or emissaries, so caught up in ideas about salvation? The challenge is not so literally about risking your life but facing fear; to create and nurture conditions whereby doing that has more complexity and vitality than the apparent banality and monotony of faith or sacrifice. It is, ultimately, a gift of life for radical living and action.

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